Are We Idealistic or Optimistic?

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One of the responsibilities of my job at the CMSCE at Rutgers University is to offer sustained professional development in Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Some of the districts that I have been working with are part of a grant through the NJ Department of Education called the INCLUDE grant and some of them have taken it upon themselves to begin to embed UDL principles in their curriculum. In either case, I get the opportunity to develop a rapport with the teachers, work with them over a sustained period of time, customize the professional development to their needs and the needs of their students and in some cases have the opportunity to go into their classrooms and co teach with them.

One of the topics that we spend a large chunk of time talking about in our professional development on UDL is removing barriers from our lessons, curriculum and classrooms so that more students can reach the objectives of the lessons. We show teachers all types of digital tools that help students decode directions using text-to-speech tools, highlighters and even something as simple as just making fonts larger. We talk about using mind maps and imagery to help visual learners. We offer the concepts of allowing students to represent that they have met the objectives of a unit by a means of their choice versus a single choice assignment or assessment.

I urge educators that are involved in UDL to make use of social bookmarking. I share my Delicious and Diigo bookmarks with them and encourage them to explore the “tag” for UDL. I try to show them the power of collaboration not just with the teachers they are working with, but with other teachers in the state and the nation that are also embracing these same techniques in their classrooms. We join conversations in the UDL4ALL Ning and look for other schools and educators that are implementing these same principles in their classrooms to share their experieinces with us.

During one of my recent UDL sessions, I invited my friend, and UDL guru, Karen Janowski to Skype in with us. When I had first met the group of teachers they told me they were “just not getting UDL”. I talked to them for about an hour and made some suggestions about how I might help them move forward and then explained to them that I don’t learn alone. I learn from and with others.  I asked them who they had learned from and they mentioned Karen’s name and her Toolkit.  I indicated that I would ask her if she was available for a Skype with us and it seemed as if it was a completely new concept. (Many of the folks in my PLN wouldn’t think twice of video conferencing with someone who had the answers to some of the questions they had.) I explained to the group that by making this connection, the answers might be a bit more meaningful to them. They would see Karen’s toolkit not just as a list of valuable links, but as resources from a thoughtful educator from Massachusetts that took the time to speak with them.

Karen gave us some great suggestions after we told her we were still looking for ways to increase our Activity Toolkit. We talked about general tools to help remove barriers for different types of learners and specific ways to make accommodations in our classrooms for the three Brain Networks. Since these teachers were part of the INCLUDE grant and had a focus specifically on middle school math, she suggested Mathcasts and MathPlayground as resources for activities to integrate with the curriculum.

Then the conversation went down a different road. One of the teachers brought it back to a topic we had been discussing before Karen had joined us on Skype. The teacher spoke of three specific barriers that they felt could not be removed from the situation.
The Three Barriers:

  1. Teachers cannot count on support from home. Most students go home to older or younger siblings and do not see parents until much later in the evening.
  2. These are classified students, ELL students and students that tend to not test well. We can’t change that.
  3. Time. There is never enough of it and they are told to get through the curriculum by the end of March so that all content is covered before the State testing. Then after testing they can go back and redo anything they feel needs reinforcement.

After the teacher laid it on the line so clearly, there was really nothing Karen or I could say that was going to bring her back to what she COULD do. These barriers are the realities of her challenges.

What are the realities of your challenges? Karen and I both commented that we might be idealists…

Yesterday I shared these three barriers with the group of teachers I am working with in another NJ district. In this group, there are some non-public school teachers that join our sessions. This made for interesting conversation, since a non-public school might make different requirements for its teachers than a public school with its union teachers.

He offered his districts answers to some of these barriers:

  1. Each teacher is to offer “Office Hours” once a week. These are to be the same day each week from the end of the school day at 2:45 until 3:45. Students are to make appointments and parents are to arrange for transportation. These hours are designed so that students that need help from their teacher outside the typical school day, can get it.
  2. Each teacher is to make themselves available to help students during their recess time. (Recess in this school is held before lunch time.)
  3. In this particular non-public school, the text book guides the curriculum for mathematics. Get done what you can.

I have yet to find anyone who has all the answers. But collectively, we do a pretty good job. I don’t know if I’m an idealist or an optimist. I know there are at least two sides to every story. Really, what are the realities of our challenges in the classroom? Are you the teacher that throws up barriers or walls or excuses at every accommodation that is suggested or are you this teacher? Thanks Chris Craft – you had perfect timing today.

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Sign of the Times?

Sign in High School FoyerI posted last week about the presentation I had to prepare for 150 high school teachers. I had wanted to UStream the hour-long talk, but I was unable to get access to the Internet until about thirty seconds before I began speaking. I did capture the audio using my iPod Classic and a voice recorder and I synced it with the slide show I had created. So, in the end I’ve decided to upload the entire presentation as an enhanced podcast to my Center’s page in iTunes U (make sure to click on the red circle that represents the Center for Mathematics, Science and Computer Education) where I had previously posted a series of vcasts on iPods in Ed. I recently took the vcasts down as I wasn’t happy with them, so this will be the first of many PD sessions I plan to record and share there instead. It’s 55 minutes and I wish I had footage of the teachers themselves, but it’s there if you’d like to listen to what I talked with them about and how they reacted.

Talk about reaction…

I sent Tweets out from my Blackberry throughout the morning and was very happy to have the support of my PLN. But it wasn’t until I got home and had a chance to reread the conversation that I noticed the important detail that Connie Sitterley had fed me.


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To think that the idea of making lessons accessible to more students through the use of their own electronic gadgets could possibly be eliminated in an entire state? I immediately went and checked out House Bill #363. I read through Dan Callahan’s post on the topic, Damian Bariexca’s sample letter and when I read Chris Lehmann’s post I realized that this Bill, if passed, is going to impact all public schools in Pennsylvania. Even the Science Leadership Academy.

So was the high school that I spoke at last Friday morning so far from the norm? Many of my Twitter friends didn’t seem to think so. @Mswojo Tweeted that the signs at her school are laminated and hung up in each room. We communicate on udl4all@ning.com about how we can use hardware, software and anything available to us to improve teaching and learning. What can these technology tools do to accommodate students that need help learning the objectives of the lesson and then how can we transfer that to the rest of our class so that the accommodations might help other students as well? I wish I had made those statements to the school administrator who commented that I should not have encouraged the teachers to use cell phones and ipods with their students since their was a ban in school. (Hmm.)

I want to help teachers make accommodations for their students.
I want to help teachers realize the resources available to them.
I want to help teachers reach a comfort with having and using technology in their classrooms.
I want to help teachers use the technology that is available to them and to their students.

If you haven’t already, please sign the petition against House Bill #363. At the time I wrote this, Sunday evening, February 16, there were only 263 signatures. We need a louder voice. For Pennsylvania schools will take a giant step backwards, in my opinion, if tools we consider every day supports, aren’t allowed in the classroom. If this happens in Pennsylvania, who knows which state will be next.

Pick one new skill and give it a try

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Source:images.inmagine.com/img/image100/10086/10086059.jpg

Late this past Tuesday I was asked if I would put together a presentation for a group of high school teachers. The high school administration is working on making better use of the hardware and infrastructure already set in the building and they have set up a professional day with some 90 minute workshops on how to integrate web resources into the content areas as a way of renewing the buildings interest in matching the students needs. To kick off the day, the technology coordinator asked me to make a presentation to the 150 or so high school teachers that would “get them excited” about using technology.

If you’ve met me, follow me on Twitter or read my blog, you know it doesn’t take much to excite me about technology. This stuff is my passion. So I immediately recognized that what might be really engaging for me as a member of this audience on a Friday morning at 8am, might bore the heck out of a high school biology teacher who has no interest in technology whatsoever. Thanks invance for your continued support and assistance.

This I found a bit unnerving.

The other issue I was having was that I found out about this presentation Tuesday afternoon and was due in another district on both Wednesday and Thursday. So there wasn’t much time to prep anything. I mostly planned my slide show in my head and wrote notes at red lights while driving. And then finally, Thursday evening, was able to put my presentation together.

I’d like to share it with you. I wish it were later in the day so that I would be able to invite my PLN to join a backchannel and present with me, but I realize that 8am is very early. I may try to set something up on UStream if I get the chance once I am there. I will definitely be on Twitter, looking for moral support as I have to say that this is the largest group I have presented to.

Did I mention that this is the first district I ever taught in?? No, I guess I didn’t happen to mention that.

As Liz Davis I had great fun asking session attendees to dance with us at Educon2.1, I decided to play some music while everyone is settling down. I don’t quite have the nerve to ask 150 people to get up and dance.

I will introduce the video Pay Attention and then use this slide show to lead my discussion. If I’m not able to record it using UStream, I’ll have my iPod Classic with me so that I can record it that way as I’d like to go back and hear it myself. I’m very curious to see what improvements I can make on this particular presentation having had so little time to prepare.

netTrekker Scholarships to NECC 2009

necc09netTrekker d.i. is awarding two $1500 scholarships to assist educators with the NECC registration fee and travel expenses this June. To be eligible for this scholarships you need to be a current netTrekker subscriber as of April 29, 2009 and you must submit a project using the My Portoflio feature of netTrekker.

Details of the project can be found here. The deadline for submissions is April 15, 2009.

So some of you may be asking the question what is NECC?  The National Educational Computing Conference is presented annually by ISTE , the International Society for Technology in Education. This year’s conference is in Washington, DC from June 28 – July 1. In addition to boasting the largest ed tech hall in the nation*, there is also a Bloggers Cafe, Second Life Lounge, free and paid workshops to attend and a chance to meet and network with other educators with a passion and interest in using technology to improve teaching and learning.

You can check out what some of the people who were new to this conference in 2008 had to say by visiting the NECC “Newbie” Group on the NECC Ning.

I’ll be there. I hope to see you too. Visit http://center.uoregon.edu/ISTE/NECC2009/registration/ to register.

*http://center.uoregon.edu/ISTE/NECC2008/exhibit_hall/default.php